Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Continuing Thoughts on Veganism

Yes, adopting a vegan diet can help save the planet, eliminate unnecessary cruelty to animals, aid in feeding the world’s hungry, and reduce the blobs of fat that currently hang on American’s guts and posteriors. The choice to eliminate all animal products from one’s diet is probably one of the most moral decisions that any human being can make in this age of planetary distress. I congratulate anyone able to forsake the flesh and by-products of the beast, whether they do so for moral, health, or aesthetic reasons.

My own little experiment with veganism, however, has convinced me that it is damn difficult to put into practice if you don’t have the luxury to live in more enlightened parts of the country like California, Oregon, or Vermont. Even here in New York—supposedly a bastion of progressivism in the United States—it is extremely difficult to find places to eat suitable for those practicing veganism (good luck trying to find anything even remotely vegan on the menus at Applebees, Friday’s, or Friendy’s!). Vegan meals are also much more labor intensive to prepare and require much more forethought than other kinds of food choices.

That having been said, we Americans can no longer afford to continue to eat the way we have since the 1960s with animal products and fast food making up the bulk of our food choices. In his provocative article in the New York Times, “Unhappy Meals,” Michael Pollen gives the most practical tip on how to eat a healthy—and fairly planet-sustaining—diet:

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Although this may sound a bit simplistic, if more Americans tried to put this advice into practice, the entire planet would ultimately benefit. The key to success seems to be to take incremental steps in reducing one's overall consumption of animal products. There is absolutely no reason why an ecologically conscious person couldn't limit his or her consumption of animal products (dairy, eggs, and cheese for example) to two or three times a week, and perhaps reserve the consumption of animal flesh to the odd special occasion or holiday. This compromise would probably not satisfy a hard-core vegan, but it would be a dramatic improvement to the typical American diet and would significantly reduce the amount of animal cruelty currently practiced.

Is this a reasonable compromise or a cop-out? Let me know what you

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Chinese Conundrum

The Chinese currently have a population of 1.3 billion people. The U.S. has a population of 300 million.

The average ecological footprint of one Chinese citizen in 2006 was approximately 2.0 (a footprint of 2.0 means that that it takes approximately two global acres of resources to sustain each person in China). By comparison, the ecological footprint of the average American in 2006 was 24, which basically means that the typical American was using ten times the Amount of resources as the typical Chinese.

The problem is that the entire planet’s biocapacity is 4-5 global acres per person. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if everyone on earth lived more like the average Chinese rather than the average American. Unfortunately, those 1.3 billion people in China (not to mention their friends in India, Thailand, and the rest of the developing world) have a strange desire to live like we do here in the U.S. Instead of riding bicycles, they want to drive cars or SUVs; instead of eating their traditional, healthy, low-fat, mostly plant-based foods, they want to eat Big Macs and Kentucky Fried Chicken; instead of shopping at stores selling inexpensive locally produced products, the want to buy imported TVs, DCD players and Ipods at suburban-style mega-shopping malls. In short, they want exactly what we have, and, since everyone knows that our American way of life is as close to perfection as one can find in the universe, who can really blame them?

But, if everyone in China actually tried to live like the typical American, our fragile little planet would no longer be able to sustain life as we know it.

So, as I see it, we have two options:

1. We can tell the Chinese that they don’t have the right to live so damned irresponsibly and discourage them from trying to live the kind of lifestyle that we have here in the U.S. This, however, would be a bit hypocritical on our part…rather like telling the Brazilians they shouldn’t clear-cut their forests after we have all but decimated our own.

2. Or, we can try to set a moral example ourselves by taking the steps necessary to reduce our own exorbitant levels of consumption and, in doing so, reduce our ecological footprint to a more reasonable level. Don’t worry. This doesn’t mean that we would have to live like people in Bangladesh. We could, however, try to adopt some of the more ecologically sound practices of Europeans, whose average ecological footprint is only 4.9. Anyone whose ever been to Germany or France will tell you that life is pretty damned good in Europe, even if they do have to recycle and pay a bit more for gas than we do.

Perhaps if we did make an effort to get our ecological footprint down to even European levels, we might actually set a positive moral example for the developing world instead of promoting a model of consumption that can only lead to the death of our planet. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Chinese will necessarily follow our example, but, at the very least, for once—just for once—we wouldn’t seem quite so hypocritical when we exhort other nations to behave responsibly.

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